English Textbook Writing By Greg Goodmacher

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Did you know that the number of people studying English worldwide is estimated at around one billion, and that this number is projected to grow considerably? What does this mean to you as a writer? The market for writers of educational materials is growing, too, and your writing can be a part of that growth.

If you want lots of people to know about topics that excite you, consider writing textbooks for foreigners who are learning English.

Most English Language Teaching (ELT) textbook companies in America, and worldwide, publish new books each year, and these companies are searching for new authors with fresh ideas. ELT textbooks are written for students who are studying English as a second language (ESL) or English as a foreign language (EFL). There are quite a variety of textbook genres that writers with specific talents or backgrounds can specialize in. For example, a writer with a background in scientific writing could propose a reading textbook based on short articles about science. Writers specializing in Americana can write American culture-based textbooks, which are very popular now. Travel writers could turn their research into textbooks with short readings about cities worldwide. Grammar lovers could write textbooks for grammar study. The range of content in the ELT textbook field is so wide that opportunities abound for writers willing to explore the options.

If you are not already familiar with ELT textbooks, you should definitely scan some to get an idea of the formats, which are usually repeated in each chapter throughout most textbooks. The next step is writing the book proposal. Textbook publishing companies usually have basic requirements for proposals: two or three sample chapters, a proposed table of contents, an explanation of what is new or special about your ideas, and your resume. Some publishers ask for more than this. Links to forms for submitting proposals or links to guidelines can be found on the websites of most ELT textbook publishing companies. Be sure to read these carefully. Sending proposals to many companies at the same time is acceptable and common in this field.

Developing a personal connection with textbook editors and salespeople is very helpful. Perhaps, the best way to do this is to attend an ELT conference. In America, the largest ELT organization is Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL), and it holds a humongous conference every year. Dozens of textbook companies have booths in the educational materials exhibition area. This is definitely the place to approach their staff members with your proposal. Walk from booth to booth and ask if you can discuss your proposal with an editor. A major reason for their attending the conference is to meet authors, like you. Often it is possible to get an immediate response regarding the pluses and minuses of your proposal. Expressing your willingness to change the format or level of your writing to fit their needs will greatly help you win a book contract. Having to rewrite your proposal and wait a few months to hear the final verdict is quite common, though. Smaller conferences are held in almost every state throughout the year. Search the Internet for one near you.

Do not limit your chances to just American publishers. ELT textbook publishers exist throughout the world. Other large markets include Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Brazil, Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries. Small local publishers also seek proposals. Sometimes, these companies have local writers who have great ideas and specific knowledge in their fields, but those writers are not native English speakers. The local publishing companies often seek foreign co-writers to help their native writers write more naturally. Use the Internet to contact these companies with your proposals.

Successfully writing for English as a second or foreign language learners will test your ability to write simply and clearly. Remember that vocabulary levels are much lower than those of native speakers, and they are not familiar with many American slang and recent cultural references. Unless you are writing a textbook for a specific field such as teaching English to doctors, avoid jargon. Whereas editors of media for native speakers may want authors to avoid vocabulary repetition, editors of language textbooks usually appreciate repetition and simple phrasing. Keep these points in mind. If your book sells well, you will probably be asked to write another. Also, once you have a textbook published by one company, other companies will give you much more consideration, too.

A very short list of ELT publishing companies is below. An Internet search will provide you with many more.


Cengage Learning
Pearson Longman

In Japan:

Seibido Publishing Company
R.I.C. Publication

Greg Goodmacher is both a language teacher and a writer. He has authored four ELT textbooks and contributed to several others, and he has written numerous articles for travel, culture, and education related media.